Fighting on the edge: reproductive effort and population structure of the invasive coral Tubastraea coccinea in its southern Atlantic limit of distribution following control activities.
The detection and control of invasive alien species in marine ecosystems is especially challenging because it is difficult to visualize the full extension of an invasion, while control options are often limited. The invasive scleractinian coral Tubastraea coccinea have spread over 8000 km of the Atlantic coastline, from Florida in the USA to southern Brazil, mainly in association with oil and gas platforms. This invasive coral threatens endemic species, reduces native coral recruitment, and modifies communities and trophic interactions, posing a relevant threat to shallow Atlantic reefs. The main aim of our study was to assess the effectiveness of an ongoing T. coccinea control program by analyzing the results of control interventions on population structure and cover of the target species in its southern Atlantic limit of distribution. We also describe the reproductive effort of T. coccinea in a 12-month time span. Between 2012 and 2019, almost 14,000 colonies were removed, most of them of small size (< 5 polyps). The highest reproductive effort was observed in September. Changes in T. coccinea cover, population structure and potential local propagule supply were observed. Control activities led to a reduction in up to half the cover of the invaded area, maintained the majority of the population in non-reproductive sizes, and consequently lowered the potential local propagule supply. Our paper highlights the fundamental role of control in preventing the local spread of T. coccinea. Recommendations on management frequency and timing are also discussed in order to contribute to the improvement of management efficiency.